In less than two weeks, Americans, especially American Blacks, will honor and celebrate history. For the first time ever in the storied history of the National Football League, American Black head coaches will lead their teams in Super Bowl XLI. What’s more, this year, both teams playing for the NFL’s 41st championship will change the imagery of the pinnacle of success in the most exclusive sports club in America. Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, head coaches of the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears respectively, will square off on February 4, 2007 to make history as the only American Black head coaches to reach the Super Bowl.
In less than two years, Barack Obama, the Democratic Senator from Illinois, is being touted as a serious contender for the Presidency of the United States in 2008. Although several American Blacks have run for President before, Obama is the first with a real chance to win his Democratic party’s nomination. The latest polls show Obama barely trailing Hillary Clinton as the democratic voter’s choice for President (According to a poll by Rasmussen Reports, 22 percent of respondents would support Clinton as opposed to 21 percent for Obama.)
Whether it’s the NFL or the Oval Office, Americans continue to make great strides and progress in their 230 year old experiment in Democracy. Graduation rates amongst blacks at all levels continue to rise, while crime rates amongst blacks continue to fall. More and more businesses are hiring American Blacks, (as proved by lowering employment rates amongst them) and the glass ceiling for American Blacks has just about cracked in every industry. Even more telling than the statistics though, are comments made by their respected leaders.
Actor Bill Cosby recently told the Chicago Defender that the country is ready for an American president who happens to be Black. But he made it clear that Blacks have moved beyond simply voting for someone because of the hue of their skin, and they will not just blindly vote for Obama. The paper reported Cosby saying, "I see the African American voter having to study both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Obama. It goes without saying that former President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton have embraced the African Americans. By studying both politicians deeply, the African American voter for the first time will not pick a candidate because of any particular idiosyncrasy."David Mack, a South Carolina state legislator and former chairman of the state's black legislative caucus, who is backing Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), echoed Cosby’s sentiments, "It's nothing against Obama, but we have to weigh all the factors."
After his team beat the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game Tony Dungy admitted it “means a lot” to represent African American coaches in the Super Bowl, but quickly said he hopes that the pre-game hype revolves around the teams, not the coaches’ races.
These comments, and dozens others like them, show that this American community is truly closing the gap. No longer are black leaders supporting other blacks, merely because of the color of their skin. Instead, they are looking (as we were all once encouraged to do by Martin Luther King, Jr.) at the content of each man’s character. No longer are black leaders bringing attention to their race to further the black movement, because they realize it’s just not necessary anymore. The movement is beyond that now.
Lovie Smith, about to make history in the NFL, conceded that the country is not yet color blind, "(Tony Dungy and I) realize the position we're in. We have an opportunity to do something special. I hope for a day when (our race) is unnoticed, but that day isn't here."
I agree with Lovie that the day of equality is not yet here. But while celebrating Dr. King’s recent birthday and preparing to honor the contribution of American Blacks during Black History Month, I am inclined to raise the point: If not today, then when?